Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Day with Degas (Introduction)

As an artist, Degas maintains a strong hold on me and has for some time.  And while many artists have inspired me at one time or another, they lacked the longevity that grew with my own artistic journey and development.  Often times, as artists, we can find something in the work of an artist that addresses a question we have about our own work, or affirms an aesthetic of formal belief we hold ourselves, it can teach us about process or methodology, or simply inspires us with technique or subject matter.  This longevity I speak of though, requires that an artist's work have enough complexity that it can evolve with us as our craft develops and our ideas evolve. For me, the work of Degas is one such artist.

Like Manet, Degas came from a fairly affluent family and was exposed to classical music, theater and ballet.  His father, a banker, Auguste de Gas, was an amateur musician and lover of music and his mother, who died when Edgar was only 13, was an amateur opera singer. A famous Spanish musician and performer, Lorenzo Pagans, would often play private musical soirées at the homes of wealthy Parisiennes.  The de Gas home was one, the Maison Manet another. The exposure (and education) to classical music, opera and ballet, would have a profound impact on his work.  It's known that Degas was a regular to the rue Le Peletier opera before it burned in 1873.  This was the original opera that Garnier would replace. In later life, before Auguste's passing, Degas painted his elderly father listening intently to Pagans playing (see below).

"Degas' Father Listening to Lorenzo Pagans Playing the Guitar", c 1869-72, MFA, Boston
"Lorenzo Pagans et Auguste de Gas", c1871-72, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
In these two paintings Degas also 'recycles" subject matter and composition- repeating the image, gesture and placement of his father. Later on, he would paint "Ballerina and Woman with Umbrella", which utilizes a similar gesture on the right side (including the placement of the hands). This is also the same gesture he posed Mary Cassatt in for her seated portrait.

"L'Attente", c 1880-82, Getty Museum- Norton Simon Museum, Los Angeles- Pasadena, CA

"Portrait of Mary Cassatt", c 1879-1884, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
While I've been studying Degas for some time,  it was rekindled several years ago when I attended the "Degas and the Nude" exhibition both in Boston at the MFA and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris- the only two venues the exhibition traveled.  The exhibitions were slightly different (Paris had several works that were not included in Boston), and I have to say, I felt more excited seeing it Paris. Although the early work appeared to be unrelated to the late work, the ideas were very closed aligned.

When I traveled to Paris several weeks ago, I wanted to retrace some of his steps and look at some of his work intimately. His earlier work (and influences) in particular are of interest to me because they display his tenacity with his research and development of ideas, and the broad technical exploration, he utilized. I am eager to share some these observations over several posts.